The 10 Teacher and Student Commandments

by André Silva

It takes two to tango. Here are some tips for your language learning dance.

Learning and communicating in a foreign language will always be a tale of two people: one speaking, the other one listening. For most people learning a foreign language, the first “dance” will be in the classroom with their teacher and classmates.

Success in learning a new language depends on many things, but students and teachers are at the core of this journey. And this is why we compiled a list of 10 commandments for both teachers and students — and because it’s no fun to dance tango by yourself.

1. Mistakes Are a Part of the Journey

We all have had different classroom experiences. Some are positive and some are... not. Maybe you had an embaressing moment, or maybe the teacher was correcting you too harshly. Don't let those negative moments shy you away from being active in class. To keep it short and simple: mistakes are an essential part of learning a new language. At Expath, your teachers know this and will always encourage you to feel confident in those “OMG-I-am-definitely-going-to-say-this-wrong” moments. After all, mistakes are a critical part of the learning process.

2. Teachers Are Just a Learning Aid

Wouldn’t it be great if you had your German teacher 24/7 to whisper the right article in your ear? Sadly, the reality is that you only have your teacher for three hours a week — unless you are doing an intensive course, like our super intensive Summer School. So what about the remaining 165 hours of the week? Our tip: take advantage of your teacher’s knowledge and ask for help creating a “battle plan” with learning resources, more exercises (besides homework), meet-ups, and other fun German practice ideas. One supplementary exercise we love involves getting a bit active and creative: take a picture of a street and then try naming what you see in your photo in German, then practice it on your next walk around town. With this exercise, you can see your German improve as the more detailed the street descriptions become.

3. You Only Learn What You Practice

Have we mentioned that your teacher can only help you so much? When it comes to foreign languages, students only learn something properly by trying it out themselves — like learning how to ride a bike. So, if your lesson was about the names of veggies and fruit, go to the shops and try ordering some. If you just learned about adjectives and their extra declension, sit at a cafe and write down what you see. If you're a really active person, enroll in one of the many Sportverein in your town, they are super affordable and offer a lot of team sports, where you can meet some locals. And, of course, don’t forget your homework!

4. Create a Positive Atmosphere

Quoting a famous German Coach that knows a lot about building great team spirit: “Anyone can have a good day, but you have to be able to perform on a bad day”. So if you had a bad day, or are having a hard time with a specific topic in class, your classmates and teacher are there to help. And our teachers know the importance of creating a space where everyone can participate and learn on the fly. The classroom should be a space where shyness turns into shining. This will encourage students to take their positive attitude outside of the classroom and into their German meetups with classmates, or their newly discovered Sportverein.

5. There Are No Silly Questions

Nothing contributes more to you and your classmates learning than asking a lot of questions. And in a classroom, there are really no silly questions. It also helps your teacher to understand how your brain is actually processing the new content. It doesn't matter how often a teacher answers that same question: the look on a student's face when something ‘clicks’ is priceless. With time, teachers also develop tricks and strategies to give answers that are concise, creative and accurate. So, ask away!

6. Outline Small and Clear Goals

Learning German is a long-term project, so it is super important to outline “in-between-accomplishments” (Zwischenerfolge, pl.) in order to achieve that big, final goal. It’s great if you want to read Karl Marx in German, but it is more practical to start with one children’s picture book a week. The really important thing here is having a goal. And while you are out there achieving your goals, keep these two words in mind: comprehensible input. This means learning something that is not too much higher than your current learning level. Baby steps!

7. Turn Your Learning Into a Mindfulness Routine

Did we mention the imporance of putting what you learn in class into real life pracitce? Yes we have. Twice, actually. But we cannot stress this enough. Embrace this practice as a moment of mindfulness. Start with just 10 minutes a day of German speaking outside, and then try to stretch it gradually a few minutes longer. If you need help, your teacher will gladly help you. But some of the tips we have shared in this article (describing street scenes, naming groceries after you learn them, etc.) are a great starting point.

8. Language Learning Requires Four Skills

“I can understand a lot, but my speaking skills are not as good”. This roadblock is quite common, but we have a tip to help get through it. Reading, speaking, hearing and writing are skills that should always be learned hand in hand. So, on your journey, try and integrate all of them in your mindful language learning routine. Here are some other ideas to improve these skills: you could get a tandem partner, play multiplayer online game in German, or listen and read the news with the help of Langsam gesprochene Nachrichten or Nachrichten leicht.   

9. Teachers: Be Authentic

If a teacher doesn’t enjoy the classroom activities, then students never will! Without an honest interest in conveying a language — or any other subject for that matter — little to no progress will happen. Students need to see beyond tricky grammar rules and indecipherable chatter, and on the flip side, teachers need to be able to facilitate this by presenting simple but effective explanations. It doesn't hurt to add a bit of geographical and cultural spice to engage and encourage students to progress in their language-learning adventure.

10. Create Your Own Commandment

At the end of the day, it is your time and effort that you dedicate to learning a new language. Everyone has unique circumstances, but one should always be flexible and adapt to new situations. And throughout the whole process, allow yourself some grace: maybe today you didn’t understand everything your neighbour was telling you, but at least you got the idea (and you will probably have an epiphany later and remember the words)!

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